Following a survey of its members, the British International Freight Association (BIFA) reports that a majority of respondents have significant reservations over whether they will have the capacity to handle the major changes to the UK’s trading relationship at the start of 2021, such as new customs documentation and procedures.
Robert Keen, Director General of the trade association that represents Britain’s freight forwarding companies says he believes that the results of BIFA’s latest survey of members clearly demonstrates that much greater clarity is needed on government plans for the border.
“The results indicate that the recent publication of the Border Operating Model and Moving Goods Under the Northern Ireland Protocol have not greatly assisted members' understanding of procedures regarding imports and exports between the EU and UK, and GB and Northern Ireland, respectively.”
In a general question on their understanding of the Government’s plans for the border after the end of the Transition period, more than half of the respondents said that they either had no knowledge, or what knowledge they do have needs improving.
In regards to the Border Operating Model, whilst 70% of respondents said they understand the Customs procedures required to import goods into the UK from the EU at the end of the Transition period; less than half said that was the case in regards to Safety and Security Declarations. This was also the case with respondents that are involved in the import of live animals, and/or products of animal origin; as well as fresh fruit and vegetables.
The results were broadly similar for procedures to be followed for export movements from the UK to EU. Although 79% said they have no understanding of import procedures in individual EU Member States regarding export movements from the UK to EU.
Asked whether they understand the correct processes relating to trade between mainland GB and NI under the Moving goods under the Northern Ireland Protocol, the overwhelming majority of respondents said they do not understand the Customs procedures, nor the safety and security declarations that will be required.
When asked about their familiarity with the following processes/organisations, the negative responses were equally worrying. More than half of the respondents said they had no familiarity with the Goods Vehicle Management System (GVMS); whilst more than two thirds said the same about the Smart Freight Service; and the Trader Support Service (Northern Ireland only).
Keen adds: “In a similar survey conducted in May this year, 50 percent of respondents felt they would not have sufficient staff to undertake the additional Customs-related work that will be required from January 1st 2021.
“In the latest survey that has increased to 64% of respondents, which makes sense in light of the fact that 69% of respondents in our latest survey said the Covid-19 pandemic had impacted on their ability to prepare for the end of the Transition period.”
Asked whether they would like to receive more information from Government on various issues, an overwhelming majority said yes. 86% for import/export customs procedures; 71% for controlled and licensable goods; 82% for safety and security declarations; 77% on the Goods Vehicle Management System (GVMS); 85% on the Smart Freight Service and 62% on the Trader Support Service (Northern Ireland only).
BIFA was concerned to hear that over 50% of respondents said they have not received direct communication from government on EU Exit/end of Transition period, and of those that had, less than 40% found it clear and accurate.
On a more positive note the overwhelming majority of respondents (88%) said that they are aware of the Government’s Customs Intermediary Grant Scheme to assist with training, new IT and recruitment costs’ whilst 72% said they have already made use of the scheme, or intend to do so.
Keen adds: “Our previous survey found that the majority of respondents believe that an extension to the transition period was desirable, if no trade deal is agreed by December 31st 2020 and UK trade with the EU is conducted on WTO lines.
“Whilst Government chose to ignore the appeal for an extension that we made to them, based on that finding, we know that it is capable of listening to advice from business.
“We hope that they will be willing to listen to the significant reservations that have been expressed by the companies that are on the front line in the management of the UK’s visible imports and exports, including 80 percent or more of Customs entries, in regards to their preparedness for the end of the transition period.”